Sun 24 Oct: NandprayagKunol (3100m) (48km, 2100m ascent)
So we set off at an ungodly hour. It was a pleasant tarmac road to Ghat (21·5km, 550m, 1hr45') with good views back. Wed expected Ghat to be a village but it was more of a town, and unprepossessing at that. Perhaps it was a good thing that we hadnt spent a night there we were told later that it was a rather drunken place. We panicked a little over our inability to find our support crew, tried unsuccessfully to ring Mike, rode on, and found Pankaj, his uncle Prakash, and porter Chammu, all relaxed and happy. They bought us a second breakfast always welcome in India , took our bags, and bad us to ride on to Sitil where they would meet us, getting there themselves by jeep taxi.
We were offered a choice of route for the final leg either an old road to Kunol via Sutol or a direct track. (The Lonely Planet trekking guide incorrectly refers to Kunol rather than Sitil as being the roadhead.) Without having anything to go on, we chose the latter. It was a push nearly all the way.
Then after crossing a footbridge the track started to climb steeply. Our bikes were taken off us for this stretch, and it was a bit of a battle getting them back.
After this the gradient became less severe and we were again able to ride a few parts. The surface was good but our legs were no longer fresh.
Before long we found ourselves in the outskirts of Kunol village, but any encouragement was illusory. Kunol is spread out along a spur: altitudes assigned to it vary by 800m. The Inspection Bungalow (which is also the camping spot) is at the very top.
The chowkidar was away, so we had a long wait in the cold while the guys found the spare key in the village, after which they made us comfortable and cooked us dinner.
Mon 25: KunolLoharjang (2340m) (21km, 660m)
There was a crisp frost when we set out, pushing our bikes the relatively short distance to the pass, which is well defined and approached on zigzags from the north.
So, with a mixture of riding and pushing, we made our way down. There are some entertaining technical challenges on the approach to the village of Wan where we met the road.
We parted company from the mules and had a light lunch here, after which we set off fully laden with the guys walking behind hoping that a jeep would turn up to give them a lift. The road is partially tarmac and almost entirely ridable. We reached Loharjang on our own and sat contendedly in the sun, waiting for the gang who fortunately had found some transport and were not far behind.
They booked us into the Inspection Bungalow, which I guess is Raj era with attractive gardens; a very pleasant place to stay. From the temple above it there are superb views back to Nanda Ghunti.
Tues 26: LoharjangGwaldam (1970m) (45km, 735m)
We wanted to stay at the KMVN mounted above the loop in the road at the centre, but it was full. The Trishul instead was perfectly okay.
Weds 27: GwaldamKausani (1630m) (43km, 765m)
Another day began as all days should with a swooping tarmac descent, taking us down below 1000m. There were superb views of Trisul and Mrigthuni to the left. We soon came to the temple town of Baijnath, certainly worth a pause. A steep concrete ramp leads down to the temple whose reascent constitutes an entertaining challenge for the laden cyclist. The KMVN must have attractive views but does all it can to ruin the mountain backdrop to the temple.
From Baijnath its a climb to Kausani, a resort village in a notch famous for its views to the mountains. Here we had lunch and lazed around for an afternoon in the sun.
Notes: theres a choice of hotels at all prices at Kausani. The expensive places respond to bargaining out of high season. The upmarket Chevron chain advertise Mountain Villa hotel there, and thats where we intended to stay. We followed a sign to it, encountered a Chevron hotel calling itself Eco-camp, and booked ourselves in. It lives up to its name with comfortable rooms, hot baths, fluffy towels and flush lavatories. We dont think its the same place as Mountain Villa, which is presumably a couple of hundred metres further along the same road. The Eco-camp would be hard to beat.
1630m is our estimate of the height of the hotel, but other points at Kasuani have different altitudes. The junction which is the village center is about 60m lower.
The stress in Kausani falls on the first syllable, which has rather the value of caw.
Thurs 28: KausaniBharari Bazaar (1190m) (62km, 535m)
Another day which began as all days should. We paid a return visit to the temple at Baijnath and rode along the plain to Bageshwar where we arrived before lunchtime and where we intended to stay.
We ate in a fairly acceptable place along the main road and then wandered around looking for the KMVN which is said to exist there. No one could tell us where it was (or perhaps no one understood our pronunciation), and we became more and more irritated by the noise and bustle of a very standard Indian road town.
We set off again disgruntled, planning instead to stay at the PWD at Kapkot, and noticed a slightly flash hotel the Narendra Palace near the bus stand as we left.
The road undulates with an upward bias. Kapkot is reached across a bridge from a junction. The PWD can be recognised from its appearance rather than any sign intelligible to westerners; it was full.
Luckily for us we were told of the existence of a basic hotel, the Glashiar, at Bharari Bazaar on the other side of the river. Basic indeed it was, used mostly by travelling villagers, two of whom talked noisily through the night.
Notes: guidebooks invariably confuse Kapkot with Bharari Bazaar. They are considered to be different villages.
There had been a tragedy here a couple of months before our arrival: the monsoon rains had triggered a mud or rock fall onto a school, killing 18 children.